For Your Ears Only

CORSICANA, TX — Ear problems can signal hearing, balance and other health issues.

We’ve all experienced the discomfort of stubborn water remaining in the ear after a dip in the pool or a shower, a ringing sensation after attending a loud sporting event or a concert, or the sudden sensation of the room spinning, after standing up too quickly.

Our ears are made of tiny bones, passages and structures that not only control our hearing, but also our sense of balance and equilibrium. This delicate, intricate system can be thrown out of whack by many things: a cold, an infection, medication or an injury.

A common problem is tinnitus. With tinnitus, an abnormal ear noise such as roaring or ringing is heard in the ear. The noise has nothing to do with actual sound waves in the ear, but rather, is a “phantom” sound that’s heard either intermittently, or all the time. It can develop in the outer, middle or inner ear — and it can affect not only hearing, but balance, too.

Tinnitus is challenging to diagnose and treat. It can be caused by many things and is generally a symptom of an underlying condition, such as damage to the inner ear by illness, injury or abnormal tissue growth.
Tinnitus can occur in one or both ears. The phantom sound can be constant or occur in episodes, and can be accompanied by vertigo — a spinning sensation or loss of balance. The condition can be caused by excess fluid, infection, disease of the middle ear bones or ear drum, advancing age, loud noise exposure or some prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Tinnitus can be brought on by a variety of conditions, including: impacted wax in the outer ear, an ear infection, middle ear tumors, vascular problems (circulation disorders), noise-induced hearing loss, heart problems, TMJ (chronic inflammation of the jaw), auditory nerve tumors, epilepsy, etc. Often, tinnitus goes away on its own, but if it persists, untreated, it can cause permanent ear noise and disability.

The first step in treating tinnitus is a medical evaluation by your doctor, or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. Other diagnostic tests may include an MRI or CT scan to rule out the small possibility of a tumor on the balance or hearing nerve. Tinnitus can also be treated with medication and lifestyle changes. Remember that this information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor, but rather to increase awareness and help equip patients with information and facilitate conversations with your physician that will benefit your health.

— Contributing physician: Dr. Matthew Branch, Otolaryngology, Navarro Regional Hospital: (903) 641-3850

Sources: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, www.asha.org.
National Institutes of Health, www.nlm.nih.gov.
American Academy of Family Physicians, www.familydoctor.org.
American Tinnitus Association, www.ata.org.